VisitWoods and Dementia Adventure have launched a project called 'Wandering in the Woods', to help people living with dementia connect with nature.
Woods are a fantastic place for everybody to visit, whether for exercise, to spot nature or simply get away from it all. Many of us have woods within walking distance of our homes and can easily visit them whenever we want. However, some people could benefit more than others from visiting the woods on their doorsteps, yet can't do so as easily as the rest of us.
This is often the case for people living with dementia, a debilitating condition that affects the brain and causes loss of memory as well as confusion, and problems with communicating. People living with dementia may also have mobility problems.
These problems make it difficult for people with dementia to visit woods without the assistance of a carer. However, the experience of organisations such as Dementia Adventure show that woods can offer huge benefits to people with dementia, and to the carers or care home staff who look after them too.
VisitWoods recently funded a pilot project delivered by Dementia Adventure, a community interest company, in partnership with Caring Homes to look at the effects of visiting woods on people living with dementia. The pilot project, called Wandering in the Woods, saw Dementia Adventure lead three group visits to local woods for people with dementia, their carers and staff from Caring Homes.
Each of the groups had a picnic lunch before having a wander around the woods, enjoying the fresh air and scenery, and spotting wildlife as they go. "I enjoyed all the animals we've seen – ducks, coots, the rabbit and lots of flowers, weren't they beautiful!" said one resident.
Jill Attenborough, a Woodland Trust member of staff who joined the group said: "The delight on one lady's face who couldn't communicate much verbally was wonderful. She reached out and touched and for a short time was in control of what she wanted to do; she wanted to be amongst the flowers and delight in them."
Jill also said she was amazed at "the visible lifting of spirits as people realised where they had come to and that it wasn't going to be difficult or demanding or scary, just relaxing and stimulating."
One lady with dementia was incredibly anxious when she first arrived at the woods, struggling to settle while the group were eating their picnic. However, when the group started to walk around the woods, she started to relax and enjoy her surroundings.
Families of people with dementia often say they find it difficult to know what to do or say when they visit them as once they've discussed news from home, conversational topics run dry. However, while walking in the woods this wasn't the case with people talking about their surroundings and the flora and fauna they were seeing. Some family carers took children along to the walks and the residents revelled in their company, talking to them about nature and the woods as they walked.
Each of the three wandering in the woods days showed that people living with dementia can benefit a great deal from visiting woods. The resulting report states that woods and green spaces offer improvements in the physical, emotional and social wellbeing of people living with dementia in care homes which could potentially reduce the amount of medication they require. Wandering in the woods makes a compelling case for further research to be carried out on a national level to better understand the impact green spaces have on people living with dementia.
Download the Wandering in the Woods pilot project report to find out more about Wandering in the Woods
Find out more about Dementia Adventure on their website
Exploring the flowers on a woodland walk
Chatting during lunch
Learning about Hylands Park